The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

Column: I used to be a K-pop stan too

Emma Yin
K-pop groups are often controlled by their agencies and have little autonomy over their performances and concepts.

I remember the first time I came across a BTS music video in 2016. The seven boys on screen utterly mesmerized me, and before I knew it, they had become the highlight of my world. 

It’s a familiar rabbit hole: encountering a music video or interview, wondering who these talented people are, looking up their names, and… boom.

You’ve been sucked in, and there is no escape. 

The cycle repeats. There was always more to discover, and I could never get enough. If Korean pop (K-pop) is a drug, then I was an unapologetic addict. 

However, the more I immersed myself in numerous K-pop fandoms, the less I found myself enjoying them. Fan wars, scandals, unoriginal comebacks, mistreatment, and obsessive fans tainted the delightful experience that initially drew me in.

To clear things out of the way, there’s nothing wrong with liking K-pop. I have no doubt it has brought positivity to many people’s lives, and I still regularly listen to songs by Stray Kids, TXT, IU, and, of course, BTS, when I need to de-stress. After all, that’s what K-pop should be about: offering fans happiness, inspiration, and an escape from reality. 

The problem is when fans expect something more from idols beyond just the music. Yet that’s what the K-pop industry does best: bringing the commercialization of music to new extremes. 

To Korean entertainment companies, idols are essentially products that have no value beyond their ability to bring in cash. New groups only have two paths when they debut: fame or disbandment. Members are expendable upon losing the public’s favor, and there’s always an endless pool of trainees waiting for the opportunity.

Companies also regulate their idols’ lives and music to maximize profit, branding idols as products rather than true music artists. 

An example is BLACKPINK, arguably one of the top K-pop groups in the world. Since their debut in 2016, the group has only released two full albums. They are undoubtedly gifted singers, dancers, and rappers, but rather than giving them more opportunities to make more music or perform, BLACKPINK’s agency directed them to lead careers primarily based on modeling and brand deals

BLACKPINK’s success only goes to show that, at its core, K-pop has always been less about the music and more about flashy performances and copious amounts of fan service

In addition to the problems with commercialization, another aspect of K-pop deserves criticism: stan culture.

Put simply, K-pop aims to manufacture a fantastical world for fans to feed their delusions. Of course, not all K-pop lovers are fanatical, but the industry encourages fetishization and glorification to the point where idols aren’t taken seriously as artists and human beings. 

K-pop idols are essentially objects of entertainment for fans to support and obsess over. Stan culture normalizes an incredibly toxic and invasive relationship between fans and idols, leaving the latter with little autonomy over their own lives.

Anyone who has been in the industry for more than half a second knows how taboo dating is among idols: in 2018, Cube Entertainment kicked out Hyuna and Dawn for publicizing their relationship, and in 2020, EXO’s Chen was threatened by his own fans after announcing his marriage. Even nowadays, male and female idols can hardly interact with each other for fear of sparking dating rumors. It’s startling how some fans feel upset and betrayed when their favorite idols get into relationships. 

Dating restrictions are not the worst thing idols face when chasing their dreams. Even before debuting, companies strictly dictate their idols’ physical appearance and private lives. Idols are expected to be perfect and complacent, a standard Huh Yunjin from the group LE SSERAFIM boldly called out in her song “I ? DOLL.”

K-pop is an incredibly controlled and repressive industry, and the obsession with perfectionism has reached a point where some groups don’t even sing live during performances. Companies seem to expect their idols to shed all traces of humanity and become saints to maintain a perfect image.

Especially for minors, the pressure can be crushing. I’m sure Disney and Nickelodeon child stars have told the world enough about the entertainment industry’s exploitation of minors, and placing children in the public spotlight could be detrimental to their development if they don’t have a proper support system.

Even more concerning is the sexualization. During the survival show Produce 48, Jang Wonyoung from IVE performed Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side,” which contained sexual lyrics and choreography. She was only 13 at the time.

Just a few months ago, NewJeans (ages 14-18) also faced heavy controversy for their song “Cookie,” which contained sexually suggestive lyrics that many netizens felt were inappropriate for a minor to perform.

BABYMONSTER, a new girl group under YG Entertainment set to debut early this year, has continued to follow the trend of debuting idols in their early teens. Chiquita, the group’s youngest member, is only 13 years old. To make things worse, her stage name literally translates to “little girl.”

The fact that companies are willing to debut children at such a young age only goes to show that they are more intent on jumpstarting an idol’s career than they care about the effects that come with stealing the normalcy of childhood.

Minors or not, it’s no surprise that stardom takes a significant mental and physical toll at the end of the day. We have seen far too many idols crumble under the brunt of public pressure, brutal training, sexualization, and punishing promotion schedules not to recognize that something needs to change.

K-pop is falling into a spiral of companies overworking idols to meet demand and keep profits high. It’s not difficult to realize that without the die-hard stan culture, K-pop would not be what it is. 

So, rather than contributing to the toxic cycle, perhaps it’s better to walk away and form a healthy boundary between enjoying the music and focusing too much on the artists themselves.

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About the Contributors
Alice Lan, Staff Writer
Alice "Lili" Lan is currently a senior at Carlmont High School. In her last year of the journalism program, she is excited to continue exploring and challenging herself. Besides Scot Scoop, she is the Scotlight editor for The Highlander, Carlmont's news magazine. Outside of journalism, she is an artist and competitive fencer. Twitter: @lil_ilan
Emma Yin, Staff Writer
Emma Yin is a senior at Carlmont High School. This is her third year in the journalism program and currently serves as a staff writer and cartoonist. She is interested in art and dabbling in global news. You can find her drawing on her iPad, playing badminton and music, and hunting for a new boba shop. Follow her on Instagram

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The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.
Column: I used to be a K-pop stan too